It will be news to basically no one that To Kill a Mockingbird is an amazing novel. I’m just learning that now, though, as this wasn’t offered as part of my high school curriculum, and that’s a shame. It would be a great book to read in your early teens. Not only would it have led to some interesting discussion around race issues, but Atticus Finch would be such a great role model to have in one’s life growing up, even if just in fiction.
Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.
This is the story of six-year-old Jean Louise Finch who prefers to go by the name of Scout. She lives in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama with her brother Jem and widowed father Atticus. The first half of the book is composed of scenes from her childhood as she and her brother attend school, puzzle over their reclusive neighbour Boo Radley, and enjoy the long summers. It really felt like a Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn story at parts, in a great way – pure innocent childhood adventures.
The second half of the book has more of a central plot in which Atticus Finch, a lawyer by trade, has been tasked with defending a local black man accused of molesting a white girl. At the time, a black man accused of such a thing was essentially guilty before the trial had even begun, and to defend him with any sort of earnestness was to subject yourself to a lot of anger from the community. Atticus Finch believes the man to be innocent, however, and he’s truthful and kind to the core, so he fights what most people consider a futile fight. Over the course of the trial, and during its aftermath, the seemingly inconsequential events from the first half of the book all tie together nicely as the children start to grow up.
As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it—whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.
I really loved everything about this and every character in it. The narrator Scout is fantastic, but everyone else in the book is so vivid on the page as well. Atticus Finch is one of my new favourite fictional characters, I think. In a way he almost comes across as somewhat one-dimensional. He’s established as the wise and calm father from the beginning and stays that way throughout the novel, but I thought it was really interesting how the children’s views of him changed. His depth and character arc comes out through the eyes of Scout and Jem. They see him at the beginning of the novel as a completely different person than they do at the end. I love how they come to realize how principled a man he is as the novel progresses, how some of his decisions they had assumed were made from fear were actually made with patience and humility, and how you could see his attitude quietly affect them in ways that would change the adults they eventually become.
I’m not sure I’ll read Go Set a Watchman. Everything seems off about the publication of that, and I think I’d rather not overshadow this story with an apparently mediocre prequel. Obviously I’ve just read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time, so I don’t have any sacred nostalgia tied to it, but even so I’m happy with it as it is. I have no idea if Harper Lee is being taken advantage of by her publisher, but I hate the idea of an author’s work being published without their permission, especially if it may in any way tarnish his or her existing work.
Harper Lee is going to publish a sequel after 55 years… and you people think I write slow.
— George RR Martin (@GeorgeRRMartin_) February 3, 2015
This is one of those novels that I probably wouldn’t have gotten around to reading if I hadn’t started this blog. More and more of what I read these days fall under that same category, and it’s worth acknowledging. Sometimes it seems silly to write about every book I read and take part in challenges to read more classics, but there’s no doubting that it’s changed my reading for the better.